Judge Angel A. Cortinas, Third District Court of Appeal (J. Albert Diaz)
Former attorneys for the Miccosukee tribe want to disqualify former state appellate judge Angel Cortiñas from representing the tribe at an upcoming sanctions hearing.
The attorneys seeking sanctions note Cortiñas worked for one of them, Dexter Lehtinen, and heard matters on related cases while on the Third District Court of Appeal. He left the court in May 2013. Lehtinen, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein want Cortinas to be kept out.
“There is not a news story here,” said Cortiñas, now a partner at Gunster in Miami. “Lewis and Tein’s claims are baseless, but not surprising given their litigation tactics in state court. I won’t stoop down to their level by responding further.”
The sanctions hearing set Thursday stems from a dismissed racketeering lawsuit filed by the tribe against its long-time lawyers Lehtinen, Lewis and Tein, among others. The suit was dismissed last September by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami for lack of jurisdiction.
Now the three Miami attorneys are seeking sanctions plus reimbursement of attorney fees and costs in the dismissed lawsuit. They also are asking the attorneys be referred to the Florida Bar for investigation and for Roman and the tribe to be investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office for alleged obstruction of justice.
On Sunday, Lewis and Tein filed a motion requesting Cooke to order Cortiñas to show cause as to why he should not be disqualified. Lehtinen on Monday filed a similar motion.
It’s unknown whether Cooke intends to tackle the new motions before taking evidence on the sanctions request.
Lehtinen, a partner at Lehtinen Schultz Riedi Catalano de la Fuente, is seeking a contempt finding as well. Lewis and Tein have their own firm in Miami. Lehtinen and Lewis are former U.S. attorneys.
Cortiñas was on the Third DCA when it denied three en banc rehearing motions filed in a wrongful death case defended by Lewis Tein.Cortiñas also worked for Lehtinen in 1994-1995 at another firm that represented the Miccosukees.
Cortiñas filed an appearance with the court last week to represent the tribe and its current attorneys: Bernardo Roman III, Yinet Pino and Yesenia Lara.
Lewis Tein is represented by attorney Paul Calli, a partner at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Miami.
Calli’s motion to disqualify cites Florida Bar Rule 4-1.12(a), which states, “A lawyer shall not represent anyone in conjunction with a matter in which the lawyer participated personally substantially as a judge.”
“Florida ethical rules squarely prohibit his representing the tribe and its lawyers in the case,” Calli wrote.
Lewis Tein also filed a motion to seal on Sunday, stating several exhibits filed by Cortiñas contained “private, impertinent matters,” such as home addresses. The tribe filed the materials “in the teeth” of a written warning from Cooke and a state judge in a parallel lawsuit on the practice of disclosing personal information about Lewis and Tein.
The latest pleadings came after Lehtinen filed a motion last week to hold Roman in contempt. Cooke asked Roman and the tribe to turn over every audio tape of Miccosukee council and business meetings where Lehtinen allegedly gave bad tax advice or explain why the recordings were missing.
As many as 13 tapes were missing part or all of the meetings in question, including portions where Lehtinen discussed tax matters.